U.S. report calls for limitations on TV violence

February 16, 2021
Globe and Mail (Associated Press)
By John Dunbar

WASHINGTON - U.S. television networks are free to sprinkle their programs with shootings, slashings, torture and other gore because the government has no regulatory authority over violent programming.

But a draft report being circulated at the Federal Communications Commission says Congress can change that, without violating the First Amendment.

The long-overdue report suggests Congress could craft a law that would let the agency regulate violent programming much like it regulates sexual content and profanity - by barring it from being aired during hours when children may be watching, for example.

"In general, what the commission's report says is that there is strong evidence that shows violent media can have an impact on children's behaviour and there are some things that can be done about it," FCC chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday.

The issue is bipartisan. Mr. Martin, a Republican, gave a joint interview to The Associated Press with Democratic commissioner Michael Copps.

"The pressure to do something on this is building right now," Mr. Copps said, noting that TV violence comes up regularly during media ownership hearings he conducts across the country. "People really feel strongly about this issue all across this land. This is not a red state or a blue state issue."

The report also suggests that cable and satellite TV could be subjected to an "a la carte" regime that would let viewers choose their channels, a measure long supported by Mr. Martin.

"We can't just deal with the three or four broadcast channels - we have to be looking at what's on cable as well" Mr. Martin said.

The report cites studies that suggest violent programming can lead to "short-term aggressive behaviour in children," according to an agency source who described the report and asked not to be named because it has not yet been approved.

The recommendations are sure to alarm executives in the broadcast and cable industries, members of the creative community and First Amendment advocates.

"Will it count on the news?" asked Jonathan Rintels, executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media. "Will it count on news magazines like 60 Minutes and Dateline? What about hockey games when the gloves come off and people start punching each other?"

Mr. Rintels said such rules would create "huge grey areas of censored content."

"The fact that it's difficult should not take this issue off the table," Mr. Copps said, when asked about the potential difficulty.

A bipartisan group of 39 House members nearly three years ago requested a report by Jan. 1, 2005, discussing whether the FCC could define "exceedingly violent programming that is harmful to children." It also asked whether the agency could regulate such programming "in a constitutional manner."

Broadcasters are expected to object strenuously to any anti-violence regulatory regime, but have been skittish in going on the record.

Generally, broadcasters and cable companies say parents should take responsibility for what their children watch and take advantage of blocking technology, like the V-chip. Broadcasters also claim their shows are becoming edgier to keep up with increasingly violent fare on cable networks.

Dan Isett, director of corporate and government affairs for the Parents Television Council, said the industry's campaign to make parents the violence police is "purely designed to convince the Congress that they [programmers] are being responsible."

The parental blocking technologies are insufficient due to a flawed television rating system, he said. As for the argument that cable is pressuring broadcasters to be edgier, Mr. Isett believes that's nonsense.

"Virtually all content is owned by six major media conglomerates," he said. "They own what's on cable."

The commission could vote on the report at any time. Mr. Martin, Mr. Copps and Republican commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate are expected to vote in favour. Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adelstein was not immediately available for comment. Republican commissioner Robert McDowell is the potential wild card.

Mr. McDowell, a father of young children, issued a statement saying he is "deeply concerned about the effects of television violence" but added the "first line of defence rests with parents."

FCC report suggests TV violence limits

February 17, 2021
Los Angeles Times
By Jim Puzzanghera

WASHINGTON � Congress could authorize the regulation of excessively violent television shows without violating the Constitution, according to a draft of a long-awaited report by the Federal Communications Commission, which also found that increased blood and mayhem on TV has at least short-term effects on children.

Violence could be treated similarly to broadcast indecency, with its airing prohibited during times when children might be watching, an FCC official said Thursday. The official, who declined to be named because the FCC hasn't officially adopted the findings, also said Congress could order cable and satellite TV providers to allow viewers to buy channels individually or in family-friendly packages to limit how much violence children see.

Although the report, requested in 2004 by a bipartisan group of 39 House members, still must be approved by the FCC, it is not expected to change substantially, the official said.

The conclusions about the constitutionality of regulating TV violence would be controversial. The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that the FCC could regulate indecency on broadcast TV and radio, but the court has never ruled on regulation of violence.

Broadcasters are suing the FCC because they contend that the commission's tougher indecency policies since 2004 are arbitrary and unconstitutional. Defining excessive violence could be even more complicated.

The FCC's draft report acknowledges the difficulty of defining violence but says it could be done constitutionally, according to the official.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.) has said he plans to reintroduce legislation he unsuccessfully pushed in 2005 to give the FCC authority to regulate violent shows.

Broadcasters have strongly opposed any additional regulation of content, while cable and satellite TV providers have balked at allowing viewers to buy channels individually.

To fend off complaints about objectionable programs, the TV industry banded together last year to launch a $300-million public campaign to teach parents how to use the V-chip and other blocking technology.

The FCC report found that such technology is helpful but is not enough because of inconsistent ratings and other flaws, the official said.

The report follows the release of a study last month by the Parents Television Council that said TV violence had reached epidemic proportions, increasing 75% in six years. The watchdog group opposes additional government regulation but that would be necessary if the entertainment industry doesn't "clean up its act," said Dan Isett, the council's director of corporate and government affairs.

Violence = Indecency, FCC to Tell Congress

February 14, 2021
TV Newsday
By Kim McAvoy

If the FCC had its way, it would regulate TV violence just as it now does TV indecency. In fact, it would make no distinction between the two.

According to industry and FCC sources, the agency will soon ask Congress to have �its way� in a report concluding a two-year inquiry into TV violence and what to do about it.

And it is not just broadcasting the FCC is targeting. The report also suggests that Congress mandate �other forms of consumer choice� for cable subscribers�a la carte programming menus, family tiers and channel blocking.

The report finds �strong evidence� that TV violence is harmful and a correlation between TV violence and agressive behavior in children.

Despite large First Amendment obstacles, the FCC report contends that Congress has �the ability and authority� to craft a sustainable regulatory regime for TV violence.

The report has bipartisan support at the FCC. Republican Chairman Kevin Martin and Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps are said to be working closely in drafting the report.

A likely third vote�all that is necessary at the five-person commission�is Republican Deborah Taylor Tate, a vocal proponent of cleaning up the airwaves. It is unclear where Commissioners Robert McDowell and Jonathan Adelstein stand, whether they will want to go as far as their peers in trying to curb TV violence.

The FCC report is likely to find a good reception on Capitol Hill, where many Republicans and the newly empowered Democrats have expressed concerns about indecency and violence in the media. In fact, the FCC inquiry was triggered by a letter from key lawmakers.

Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) are chief advocates for granting the FCC authority to regulate violent content.

The FCC commissioners may shed more light on their thinking about violence tomorrow when they appear before the House Telecommunications Subcommittee chaired by Ed Markey (D-Mass.,), the driving force behind the legislation that mandated the V-chip more than a decade ago.

TVNEWSDAY was first to report that the FCC was considering a report on TV violence last month, but it was thought then that it would be more of a statement of concerns and broad suggestions. Among other things, the draft would have punted the problem to the Department of Health and Human Services for further study.

But as the staff-written draft report has circulated among the commissioner over the past few weeks, it has apparently become more pointed.

At the heart of the report is the idea that the definition of broadcast indecency can be stretched to cover TV violence. In other words, the report will assert that TV violence is just another form of indecency.

If the FCC and Congress can make that idea stick, it could slip past the First Amendment barrier.

The Supreme Court has already blessed the regulation of indecency except during the so-called safe harbor (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) when few children are likely to be in the audience.

The FCC floated the violence-as-indecency idea when it asked for comments on its inquiry in 2004.

�The Commission has traditionally defined indecency in terms of sexual or excretory organs and activities,� the FCC said in the notice of inquiry, �but the Supreme Court has concluded that the term indecent �merely refers to nonconformance with accepted standards of morality� and that �neither our prior decisions nor [statutory] language or history supports the conclusion that prurient appeal is an essential component of indecent language.��

In the notice, the FCC also concedes �that an interpretation of indecency or obscenity as encompassing violence would be novel.�

According to one source, the FCC picks up its definition of violence from Morality in Media, a group best known for its anti-indecency crusading.

MIM�s definition, found in its 2004 comments on the FCC inquiry: �Intense, rough or injurious use of physical force or treatment either recklessly or with an apparent intent to harm.�

MIM says it cobbled its definition together from definitions of violence in Webster�s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language and Black�s Law Dictionary.

In arguing for government regulation of violence, the FCC report declares the V-chip a flop.

The V-chip technology and accompanying ratings system is meant to give viewers the power to regulate programming in their homes by blocking programs they found unacceptable.

Last summer, in reaction to rising concerns about indecency, broadcasters joined with other media groups in a public education campaign to inform viewers about the V-chip and how to use it.

That campaign did not amount to much, and appears to have had little impact, either on the public or on their federal representatives.

Forthcoming TV Violence Report May Spur Action On Capitol Hill

January 26, 2021
National Journal (National Cable & Telecommunications Assoc)
By David Hatch

The FCC is finalizing a report on television violence that could fuel efforts by Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W. Va., and other lawmakers to restrict excessively graphic prime-time programming.

But the draft, now being circulated among the five regulators at the GOP-controlled commission, does not go as far as Democrat Michael Copps and Republican Deborah Tate would like, an agency source said. Spokespersons in those offices did not return calls.

The report, requested by 39 House members in 2004, is expected soon. Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is spearheading the effort and already has made changes in response to Copps and Tate, the source explained.

In particular, he removed a recommendation that the Department of Health and Human Services study the link between TV violence and children's behavior after they complained that fresh research should not be the focus.

Rockefeller, who is the second-most senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, plans to reintroduce legislation this session giving the FCC authority to curtail TV violence. He is expected to question Martin about the issue at a Feb. 1 oversight hearing. The senator's office did not return telephone calls.

At present, the FCC can restrict only sexually explicit or profane content on television or radio, meaning that legislation is required to expand the rules.

The report explores the impact of violent shows on youngsters, constitutional limits on the government's ability to restrict such fare, and whether authorities should define what constitutes excessively violent programming.

At a recent event sponsored by the Parents Television Council, which has urged the entertainment industry to voluntarily clean up the airwaves, Copps said the report should include options that Congress can pursue if the TV industry does not self-regulate.

But the agency source said the latest draft does not contain such proposals to avoid interfering with pending court cases in which broadcasters have challenged high-profile indecency fines. The FCC wants to avoid drawing judicial scrutiny of its intentions regarding violence while those cases are pending, the observer said. The draft recognizes the difficulty in developing a legal definition of acceptable violence, but says Congress could craft such a definition.

"Our [TV violence] report finds that there is a deep concern among parents and health professionals regarding harm from viewing violence in the media," Martin said during a Jan. 18 speech. He reiterated his support for reinstating the prime-time "family hour" and for per-channel pricing on cable.

Conservative and religious organizations are turning their attention to this issue after scoring a major legislative victory last year when they successfully pressured Congress to boost the FCC's "indecency" fines. Nevertheless, even the strongest critics of TV violence acknowledge that regulation is wrought with constitutional complexities.

"We're not out there saying that the government has to regulate this stuff," said Dan Isett, the director of corporate and government affairs at PTC. "Everything that we talk about should be voluntary."

The TV industry is conducting a campaign to educate viewers about parental controls.

FCC Commissioners Review TV Violence Report

January 21, 2021
Broadcasting & Cable
By John Eggerton

The FCC is readying a report that could set the agenda for an effort to crack down on TV gore similar to the push to curb indecency.

While regulators have been obsessing over flashes of skin and course language, TV violence, or at least the repercussions of that violence, have gotten more graphic, powered by the success of gritty police procedurals like Law & Order and CSI.

Now, several FCC sources confirm that the Media Bureau has circulated a Media Bureau TV violence report among the commissioners for their comment.

Media violence is an issue that surfaces periodically in Washington, from the hearings of Estes Kefauver in the 1950s (a Democrat) to efforts by Janet Reno (Democratic appointee) and Senator Paul Simon (Democrat) in the early 1990s that led, ultimately, to the adoption of the V-chip.

Meanwhile, Tim Winter, the new head of the Parents Television Council, the group that helped change the indecency-regulation equation, has said he plans to make TV violence his priority.

Frequent media violence critic Senator Jay Rockefeller (Democrat, W.Va.) isn�t waiting for the report, or for the courts.

"Obviously, the preference would be to have the industry police itself when it comes to excessive violence,� he told B&C. �However, if they can't or won't do it, then Congress must step in and address this growing societal problem. One of the most basic steps we can take is to give the FCC authority to regulate violence, and if necessary, the courts will then work out the constitutional issues on a case by case basis. Just sitting on our hands and doing nothing to protect children is not an option."

A source confirms that Rockefeller will re-introduce a bill giving the FCC the authority to regulate violence as it does indecency. He also expects the committee to hold hearings on TV violence, the source said.

The FCC report is the product of a more than two-year-old inquiry prompted by, among others, the now-chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Telecommunications subcommittee.

Among the issues the report addresses are the negative effects on kids caused by cumulative viewing, the limits on the FCC�s power to regulate violence, and what the definition of �harmful� TV violence is. The report is said to suggest there are constitutional hurdles to regulating violence, but not insurmountable ones if Congress wants to give the FCC the power, and Rockefeller want to do just that.

The timing of the report is likely no coincidence. The Senate Commerce Committee has called an FCC oversight hearing for Feb. 1�and the House will probably follow suit. Martin may be looking to get the report out by then, or at least be able to say he has circulated it to the commissioners for their approval. �It�s probably safe to assume that the timing is not unrelated to all of us appearing before Congress Feb. 1,� said an FCC staffer.

The TV violence issue has been heating up of late, with new Parents Television Council President Tim Winter making one of his first official acts the touting two weeks ago of PTC�s own report, tellingly titled �Dying to Entertain,� which found that TV violence had increased by 75% since a similar 1998 study�though it did not take context into account�and calling on the industry to start reining in the �alarmingly more frequent and more disturbing� content.

While PTC�s report only looked at violent broadcast prime time programming, Winter says he is also concerned about the syndication of violent shows like Law & Order or CSI in the afternoons, and of the move to basic cable of the the off-HBO Sopranos, which debuted last week to super ratings.

Winter, a former TV executive with MGM and NBC, who took over the reigns from former President Brent Bozell Jan. 1, told B&C that, without taking anything away from PTC�s indecency effort, �of all the issues PTC is involved with, violence is far and away my number one personal concern.�

It is also the concern of some in the creative community.While Law & Order creator Dick Wolf says "there is no violence on network TV that is objectionable and there hasn�t been for years,� others aren't so sure."I feel like we self-regulated it once we started to see that [Heroes] is a show that people are watching with their families," says Tim Kring, the creator of the hit NBC series.

�We agree that there is a problem,� says Jonathan Rintels, executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, whose membership includes NYPD Blue�s Steven Bochco and America�s Funniest Home Videos� Vin Di Bona.

Rintels says the violence has gotten �a little more graphic, a little more bloody� but that the industry is just catching up with other media, like the films and videogames, and all are chasing a generation raised on that diet. �We think the solution is technology and education, not government censorship. If the V-chip isn�t working, fix it. If the ratings aren�t working, fix them. If people aren�t educated, educate them.�